Of course Republicans would be naïve to expect that will put an end to all questions. There will undoubtedly be questions designed to draw them into a detailed discussion of evolution and religion. A candidate will probably have a great majority of the public on his or her side if he shuts down those questions pretty quickly. The candidate could simply explain that there are lots of good people who have different opinions on this, and that for him, the key thing is believing that God guided our creation. Beyond that, it’s not the role of the president of the United States to tell people what to believe about evolution.

Candidates can give that answer secure in the knowledge that, whatever some reporters might think, evolution simply isn’t very important as a campaign issue. In 2007, Gallup asked whether a presidential candidate’s views on evolution “are a legitimate indicator of whether he or she is qualified to be president,” or whether those views “are not really relevant and therefore should not be discussed as part of the campaign.” Seventy percent of respondents said a candidate’s views on evolution are not really relevant, versus 25 percent who say they are a legitimate indicator.

Candidates should try not to alienate anyone in the positions they take. Where evolution is concerned, it’s entirely possible to answer the question and at the same time avoid a problem — no matter how much some members of the press might want to stir things up.